Can you introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about what you do?
We are a design and creative studio based in Manchester, UK. There are only two of us that run all of our projects, myself as Co-Director James Wrigley and Co-Director Jonathan Tomlinson. We are both photographers and graphic designers and have been working on our flagship project Then There Was Us Magazine for the last few years before bringing all of our projects under one publishing name last year, Public Source. We have published our first issue of Then There Was Us themed Contested Territories at the start of the year and before that released an annual of documentary and portrait photographers. We also covered the 2018 World Cup in a small publication working with photographers around the world.
What compelled you to start this project?
A close friend of mine (Jack Springthorpe), who also contributed to this archive is currently living in China, so when the news first came out over the new year we had been talking about this from day one. As it traveled across the world we kept a close eye on the stories and events happening. I started to see images and videos that I thought I would never see in my lifetime. A lot of the publications we have produced in the past have been in collaboration with photographers around the world, and bringing people together in a large collaborative project was something that we knew we could do. This event is possibly the largest event that will happen to our generation; this project was our way of bringing photographers, writers and journalists together to attempt to tell the larger and smaller narratives happening all over the world right now.
Image – and almost all media – undoubtedly play a large role in how we perceive this crisis. How do you think journalists and photographers can avoid sensationalism without downplaying the severity of this situation?
With an event like this it’s important that we do not spread any false information. We have taken the firm stance that this project should be an honest and observable truth, and I think it’s as simple as that. The news right now is not all grim, there are a number of stories and narratives happening that have brought me to tears over the last few weeks, from singing in Italy, to the applause in France, we have even featured stories on this archive showing the humanity of this situation.
Personally, I think that if photographers and journalists continue to simply observe and seek out stories hidden under the surface of any event then you are avoiding sensationalism to a certain degree; it’s all about being honest and when you try to force an agenda or narrative then the message can become sour. As for not downplaying the severity of this situation, I think that keeping to the facts is very important. At this point it’s hard to not understand how serious this is, both to our health and the health of others, but also the economy and local business. This story isn’t just about the virus it has many levels and that’s something that should not be hidden away.
Given that this is an issue that is and will affect us all, it feels important that there is a diversity of voices. How are you selecting contributors, and who are you currently working with?
This project will hopefully serve as a retrospective of this event, so we are looking for large and small narratives from across the globe, examining the events as they unfold and emergent behaviours from across borders, cities and towns all over. We strongly believe that the only way this archive will be relevant is if we have strong diversity in the work that is presented on the site which is why alongside submissions we are actively reaching out to individuals to contribute from all corners of the globe. Many of the photographers and writers involved are already returning to us with more images each week; what’s interesting is that many of these images from NYC, Peru, Portugal, Italy, UK etc. are very similar: empty streets, masks, panic buying and self-isolation, but that’s the story. In some ways we are allowing this project to lead itself and I think a very simple way to answer this question is that we are looking for honest work observing this event.
Are you taking on new contributors?
Definitely, we are always open for submissions or people who would like to work with us on this project!
Lastly, for people who might want to submit to your site – are there any stories you are particularly interested in or looking for at the moment?
Firstly, we want people to stay safe. We want to know how this event is actively affecting individuals or communities all over the world, from frontline workers dealing with the virus head on to the smaller narratives at play, family life, communities, education etc. We want this project to maintain the honesty and observable nature that we have already started to see coming in, so if you think you have a story, even if that is a single image or a short written statement we want to hear from you.
Public Source – instagram.com/publicsource.xyz (Website launching soon)